Migrations exhibition, Bratislava, Slovakia, 7th September – 29th October 2017
A collaboration between the International Centre for the Picture Book in Society and BIBIANA
Report by Andy R Davies
Within two rooms of the International House of Art for Children, Bratislava, three hundred illustrations of birds are floating silently in the air. Three hundred postcards, each sent from very different parts of the world, simply by attaching a stamp. This flock of birds suspended by thin threads of wire gently sway from side to side as the viewer moves amongst them. Each postcard has a written message in response to the theme of ‘Migration’. Some are simple words of encouragement, some poems and some very personally accounts of migration and the importance of art in dealing with displacement. The creations of acclaimed artists and illustrators such as Shaun Tan, Christopher Corr and Jane Ray hang alongside postcards by recent graduates and professional Illustrators at various stages in their careers. There is inclusivity in the arrangement and display of this work. When a group of Illustration Lecturers from The International Centre for the Picture Book in Society (a research project founded by the University of Worcester, UK), first conceived the idea of such an exhibition several months earlier, the aim was to collaborate with as many creative individuals as possible. A simple brief was published on their website:
‘We invite our illustrator friends to send us a postcard with your illustration of a bird on the picture side of the card and a relevant message, phrase or thought on the theme on the message side of the card. The bird could be representative of a real bird from your country, a fictitious bird from your culture or your own fantasy bird. The postage stamp from your country of residence and your name will indicate the flight of your artwork first to the UK, then to Bratislava and who knows…to further exhibitions thereafter. The idea is for you to create an illustration for the context of this exhibition. Do not be concerned about possible damage to the card that you will mail to us. The stamp, the journey of the mail and all it entails will reflect the fragility and the precarious nature of migration.’
This is a small and intimate experience, where the viewer is surrounded by the work of hundreds of artists and illustrators from every continent. A digital map is included next to the artwork, on an iPad, allowing a visual guide to the origins of each postcard. The vast majority came from Europe but many have come much further: Iran, Japan, Chile – postcards have travelled thousands of miles to be part of this. The variety of stamps on display here certainly encourages philately and an appreciation of the scale of this mail-art project.
The overwhelming response to the call for participants is one of the most notable things when you observe the mass of postcards. The term ‘Migration’ or ‘Migrants’ is rather ubiquitous within the media channels that we are exposed to everyday, and has been framed in negativity. Perhaps the term has lost its true meaning and this exhibition attempts to use the allegory of birds to highlight the individuality of each migrant’s journey and resulting story. Each migrant is an individual.
The flock of postcards are flanked by the artwork of Tobias Hickey, Stephen Fowler, Andy Robert Davies, Piet Grobler and Becky Palmer, Illustrators teaching at the University of Worcester, UK. They approached the exhibition’s theme from diverse perspectives, producing pieces that span editorial, narrative, installation and print. The subjects within each of these larger works aim to build upon the themes shown in the postcards, framing the main exhibit and emphasizing the messages of movement, navigation, fragility, oppression and escape. Shaun Tan wrote the Forward to this exhibition and his words perfectly reflect the hope for this collection of work as plans are under way to take it to different locations around the world, where it can be exhibited to different audiences.
“Perhaps this is where a humble exhibition such as this, contributing to millions of other small and large humanitarian actions happening simultaneously around the world, can actually make a difference. By creating, looking, and asking questions, confronting despair, we invest back into an economy far greater than any stock exchange, more ennobling than any political system, and far less compromised. We sustain the will to imagine a better world, for adults and especially children, for whom the positive inspiration of art and story can never be overestimated.” Tan. S. (2017)
The MIGRATIONS Exhibition is open until the 29th October 2017 and is one of the numerous exhibitions that make up the 26th BIB (Biennial of Illustrations in Bratislava) which run throughout September to December 2017.